Earnhardt believes Smith won Talladega
Looking back at that 2003 victory, Earnhardt can’t figure out what he did differently than Regan Smith did last week at the same track. Smith’s last-lap pass of Tony Stewart was below the out-of-bounds line and ruled illegal, which denied Smith his first victory.
“It was exactly the same. I was forced below (the yellow line) and that was declared OK,” Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
“I know for a fact Regan didn’t go down the front straightaway with a plan to pass (Stewart) on the apron. He was under (Stewart) on the race track when Tony came down and he was forced onto the apron.”
Earnhardt strongly believed that NASCAR wronged Smith by ruling his move Sunday was illegal.
Smith ducked below the yellow line to pass Stewart, returned to the racing surface and crossed the finish line first. But NASCAR doesn’t permit passing below the line, but occasionally makes an exception if officials believe the driver was forced onto the apron.
Officials said they did not believe Stewart forced Smith under the line, but Earnhardt disagreed.
“What is unclear is what being forced below the yellow line is,” Earnhardt said. “In my opinion, (Smith) was forced below the yellow line. The two did make contact. He was on the inside of Tony. In my opinion (Smith) wins the race. I feel like Tony did what he had to do. In the car, everyone would have done what Tony did and everyone would have done what (Smith) did.
“What’s curious is, when are you forced? Show me some video of what’s forced and what’s not.”
Earnhardt said he felt for Smith, who is essentially a free agent right now because his ride at Dale Earnhardt Inc. doesn’t have sponsorship lined up for 2009. Earnhardt is no longer affiliated with DEI, and said he doesn’t pay much attention to the sponsorship woes the team is currently battling.
As of right now, DEI has just one full sponsor lined up for four race cars next season and Earnhardt said a win by Smith could have put a positive spotlight on the slumping organization.
“It definitely would have impressed a lot of people for Regan’s sake,” Earnhardt said. “I think he’s a really, really good guy and I think he’s got a lot of talent. There’s a lot of drivers in the sport with jobs that he probably deserves. There’s also the chance that it would help DEI nail down some money for next year for that team.”
Earnhardt left DEI at the end of last season to join Hendrick Motorsports, and said he won’t be running back to his late father’s race team to rescue it.
“The way the economy is working, and the way things are looking on Wall Street … as delicate the situation is financially across the country, across the world, I think I would be best to be idle,” he said. “I haven’t pushed my nose in there and asked many questions what the situation is. It’s obviously, the team, from the outside looking in is pretty dire.”
TOUGH SELL: Marcus Smith picked a fine time to take over Lowe’s Motor Speedway, inheriting a huge race track and the responsibility of filling it during dire economic times.
But the new president of Lowe’s is tackling the challenge head-on, devising plans that will convince fans they won’t be disappointed if they choose to spend their entertainment dollars at any of the Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks.
“My job is to be the best host of the greatest party in the world,” who will mark his first race at track president with Saturday night’s event. “My No. 1 focus, regardless of the economy or number of tickets sold, is to make sure every single fan has a great time and says `Wow, I’m glad we came.’ “
Smith, the son of SMI billionaire owner Bruton Smith, replaced Humpy Wheeler following the Coca-Cola 600 in May. Wheeler retired after 33 years running the crown jewel of Bruton Smith’s empire.
Among Marcus Smith’s fan-first trends is a 4-pack of tickets that includes four sodas and four hot dogs for $39.75, and reduced costs on souvenirs.
Concessions have been reduced, and LMS officials partnered with area hotels to reduce rates and waive minimum stay requirements.
There’s a new pass that gives fans access to pit road during pre-race and an on-track Jessica Simpson concert that will also put them front and center for driver introductions.
LMS also allowed anyone with a ticket to Saturday night’s race pit road access to the Sprint Cup Series test session last month, and introduced a van package that takes fans on a tour at both Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing.
HALL OF FAME ADDITION: The winningest car in NASCAR Cup history will be on display at the new NASCAR Hall of Fame—without the scuff marks.
Seven-time points champion Richard Petty unveiled his blue No. 43 Plymouth in which he won 36 races in 1966-67, including a record 10 straight on the way to his 1967 championship. Petty agreed to lend the car from his own museum to the Hall of Fame, set to open in 2010 in downtown Charlotte.
“Really that was when we really built our career,” Petty said Friday as he pointed to the car outside the Charlotte Convention Center. “Even though we had done pretty good, I think that pretty much cemented us in and we were able to go from there.”
But Bobby Allison, a longtime rival of Petty, joked that the car was missing something.
“I’m so pleased to see this thing as one of the first things going in, but it’s not really authentic,” Allison said. “I put lots of wheel marks (on it), and they’re not there. Maybe I can get them on there later today.”
The Hall of Fame also announced a program where fans will able to buy commemorative bricks with their names that will be on the outside of the main entrance to the facility. Petty, Allison, Donnie Allison and Ned Jarrett were among the old drivers on hand Friday to receive their bricks.
The ceremony allowed the old-timers to swap stories of their days racing— and scuffling.
“I didn’t know if Bobby and Richard were going to get in a fight before I got down here,” joked Donnie Allison.
AP Sports Writer Mike Cranston contributed to this report.